Santa Claus flew early down the Cote chimney last week, dropping off the gift of a 12-4 record straight-up and an even shinier 12-3-1 against the spread, with Patriots pushing at seven points as the tie. We nailed another Upset of the Week call (“Aawwk!”) with Packers over Seahawks, and had two other ’dogs-with-points in Jets and Texans. It’s been a pretty average season overall for us at .631 ouright, but that .582 mark vs. the evil betting line — 33 games above .500 — is up on our all-time record of .574, the mere mention of that of course surely dooming us to a freefalling finish. [Note: Thursday-game pick was Seahawks (-15) over Rams, 21-7].
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
DOLPHINS (8-5) AT JETS (4-9)
Line: MIA by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: NYJ 20-17.
TV: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC, NFLN (airing in South Florida).
It isn’t that I think the Jets are any good or even better than their sad record. No, this Saturday night upset hunch is hinged on two main factors: 1) NYJ will load up defensively on Jay Ajayi and force the game on Matt Moore, who’ll be making his first start in five years in place of injured Ryan Tannehill, and on a short week, in cold, wet, sleety conditions. I can see a miserable game by Moore more than I can envision heroics. And 2) Bitter rivals, wintry conditions, prime time, the Planes in a spoiler role — I think all of this will tend to magnify the home-field advantage for the Jets. Miami is clawing hard to stay in the AFC playoff race and needs this, but want isn’t everything. Losing Tannehill is a major blow. And NYJ had won three in a row in this series before Dolphins parlayed a fourth-quarter kickoff-return TD in Miami to win 27-23 in November. This pick presumes Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, both less than 100 percent, will be ready for Jets. I might be guilty of underestimating the Dolphins (store that info for next time you wanna call me a homer), but I’m feeling the Jets, with nothing left but beaten pride, will pour all they have into this.
GAME OF THE WEEK
PATRIOTS (11-2) AT BRONCOS (8-5)
Line: NE by 3.
Cote’s pick: NE 24-20.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Why Game of the Week? Lions-Giants and even Bucs-Cowboys tempted, but here we have an AFC Championship Game rematch that finds Patriots still trying to lock up No. 1 postseason seed and defending champ Broncos precariously just trying to get in. Give Denver a medium-sized home-’dog upset shot, but a loss to help Miami’s playoff chances is likelier. Denver is imbalanced, with not much offense to offset that big D. Trying to find a way to get to Trevor Siemian outscoring Tom Brady, and cannot do it. Tom Terrific has 21 TDs vs. two interceptions in his past 10 starts vs. Denver, and the conditions in Mile High won’t bother him. Brady vs. Von Miller should alone be worth watching, by the way.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
STEELERS (8-5) AT BENGALS (5-7-1)
Line: PIT by 3.
Cote’s pick: CIN 27-23.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
“AAAWWWK!” carols the Upset Bird. “Deck the field with boughs of Dalton, fa la la la la, la la la laaawwwk!” Steelers are the better all-round squad and beat Cincy 24-16 in September, but I like Benegals here as the rival with nothing to play for but spoiler, at home. Teams do not like each other, call each other dirty, and ’Gals will be amped to damage Pitt’s playoff hopes. Andy Dalton has five TDs, zero picks and a 102.4 rating in his past three vs. Steelers, and could get A.J. Green back. “Risky upset call,” acknowledges U-Bird. “Did somebody spike my egg nog? Spike my egg naaawwwk!?”
DOG OF THE WEEK
BROWNS (0-13) AT BILLS (6-7)
Line: BUF by 10 1/2.
Cote’s pick: BUF 24-16.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
There is one other Week 15 matchup in which neither team has a playoff prayer, but at least Saints-Cardinals could be entertaining. A continuous loop of this game piped into cells should be part of the sentencing for convicted murderes. Talk about a deterrent! Tickets to this stinker are scalping for $5. Disappointing as Rex Ryan’s Buffs have been, cannot see them adding the ignominy of being the first to lose to the woebegone Earthtones.
PACKERS (7-6) AT BEARS (3-10)
Line: GB by 5 1/2.
Cote’s pick: GB 19-16.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
Aaron Rodgers’ Pack have won three in a row to give themselves a bit of life in NFC playoff chase. Cheesers also have won 13 of past 16 in this rivalry, including six in a row on road. Beware, though. Respect the upset shot. Chicago has beaten Detroit and Minnesota at The Soldier this year. Matt Barkley has been pretty good and gets Alshon Jeffery back off suspension. And zero-degree conditions off Lake Michigan could keep the score nearly as low as the temps.
JAGUARS (2-11) AT TEXANS (7-6)
Line: HOU by 6.
Cote’s pick: HOU 24-13.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Houston is trying to win a bad division and certainly can’t abide a home stumble against a Jax team to whom this forsaken season can’t end soon enough. Brock Osweiler is almost as turnover-prone as Blake Bortles, but Texans tend to take care of business. They’ve won nine consecutive division games, all four this year. Meanwhile, the Jags of Dead Man Coaching Gus Bradley have lost eight in a row.
EAGLES (5-8) At RAVENS (7-6)
Line: BAL by 5 1/2.
Cote’s pick: BAL 27-20.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Latest in our Bird Bowl Series finds the Eagles playing out the string with four losses in a row, while the desperation-mode Ravens (like the Dolphins) are trying to win up into that top six. Baltimore has hands on the wheel, though; it wins its division with a 3-0 finish. Joe Flacco has completed 73 passes the past two games, and Philly’s air-D is average.
TITANS (7-6) AT CHIEFS (10-3)
Line: KC by 5.
Cote’s pick: KC 23-17.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
KC has extra rest and prep time after playing last Thursday, has won eight of its past nine games and is energized by playmaker Tyreek Hill. Chiefs also are a strong home team that will be better-suited to the freezing cold than the fellas from Nashville. Tennessee is solid, but winning at Arrowhead in December is a big ask.
LIONS (9-4) AT GIANTS (9-4)
Line: NYG by 4.
Cote’s pick: NYG 24-21.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida).
Big one in NFC playoff hunt. Lions clinch dvision with a win if Packers also lose. Giants clinch playoffs with a win if other results fall just right. Motown has won five in a row; Biggies counter with seven wins in past eight games. But Matthew Stafford’s middle finger on his throwin’ hand isn’t right, Theo Riddick is iffy to play, and Eli Manning tends to be pretty stout at home. So: Venue call.
COLTS (6-7) AT VIKINGS (7-6)
Line: MIN by 4.
Cote’s pick: MIN 20-17.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
It’s pitchers’ duel between No. 1 overall picks Sam Bradford (2010) and Andrew Luck (’12), though both are hampered by sore shoulders and disappointing seasons. Playoffs are an uphill climb for both. Adrian Peterson is back practicing but won’t play Sunday. Minny’s stout defense vs. a shaky Colts O-line should be enough, but Luck has won three in a row on road and should stay close.
SAINTS (5-8) AT CARDINALS (5-7-1)
Line: ARI by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: ARI 30-27.
TV: 4:05 p.m., Fox.
Two pretty good bad teams (if that make sense) figure for a game I’d watch. Drew Brees has zero TDs, six INTs his past two games but can’t stay that awful. Carson Palmer averages 300 yards (OK, 299) his past seven at home. Cacti are a better-balanced team that plays a little defense, and they’re decent in the desert (4-2-1), so make it a venue call.
49ERS (1-12) AT FALCONS (8-5)
Line: ATL by 14.
Cote’s pick: ATL 41-10.
TV: 4:05 p.m., Fox.
Julio Jones is iffy to play with a toe injury but Matt Ryan’s Falcons still have ample firepower to dominate the hapless Niners at home in the Georgia Dome’s swansong season. No coasting for Atlanta, either, because Tampa’s five consecutive wins have made it real scrum for NFC South title, and whichever team falls short might not make postseason at all.
RAIDERS (10-3) AT CHARGERS (5-8)
Line: OAK by 3.
Cote’s pick: OAK 28-17.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS.
Oakland officially ends its 14-year franchise playoff drought with a victory. I looked very hard at San Diego as a home ’dog and still give Bolts a fair upset shot. But RB Melvin Gordon being out injured is a huge absence for SD that will allow Khalil Mack to really tee it up and wreak havoc upon Philip Rivers, who is oops-prone with 17 interceptions.
BUCCANEERS (8-5) AT COWBOYS (11-2)
Line: DAL by 7.
Cote’s pick: DAL 24-20.
TV: 830 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida).
Been a long time since Tampa Bay was this close to the Game of the Week marquee. But Sunday night gets a good one here. Dallas, trying to buff the rust off its America’s Team shield, aims for a first-round bye. Tampa, trying to shed its laughingstock image, fights for a playoff spot. Bucs beat the ’Boys 10-6 last season, and it’s with defense that Tampa has surged to five wins in a row now. With Dak Prescott feeling a bit of pressure for first time, give me the home team.
PANTHERS (5-8) AT REDSKINS (7-5-1)
Line: WAS by 6 1/2.
Cote’s pick: WAS 27-23.
TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN.
It’s the home team desperate for this win in the playoff chase, in a game decorated by CB Josh Norman’s first appearance vs. his former team. Also a likely air show for your Monday amusement. Kirk Cousins is having a Pro Bowl year, and Cam Newton has seven TDs, zero picks and a 122 rating in three career meetings.